Two weeks ago, the NY Times broke the story of Harvey Weinstein's "decades of sexual harassment allegations," as well as a history of settling with accusers, leading dozens of women to come forward to describe how they have been sexually harassed or assaulted by the powerful movie producer. Now actress Lupita Nyong'o has written about her history with Weinstein for the Times.
"I had shelved my experience with Harvey far in the recesses of my mind, joining in the conspiracy of silence that has allowed this predator to prowl for so many years. I had felt very much alone when these things happened, and I had blamed myself for a lot of it, quite like many of the other women who have shared their stories," she explained. "But now that this is being discussed openly, I have not been able to avoid the memories resurfacing. I have felt sick in the pit of my stomach. I have felt such a flare of rage that the experience I recount below was not a unique incident with me, but rather part of a sinister pattern of behavior."
Nyong'o, who won an Oscar for her breakthrough performance in 2013's 12 Years a Slave, wrote that she first met Weinstein in Berlin when she was a student at the Yale School of Drama. Someone told her that he was "the most powerful producer in Hollywood," and when she asked people about him, a female producer "cautiously advised me to 'keep Harvey in your corner.' She said: 'He is a good man to know in the business, but just be careful around him. He can be a bully.'"
Weinstein invited her to watch a film at his Westport, Connecticut home with his family, and she accepted, as it was close to Yale's New Haven campus. Before going to his home, Nyong'o described having a meal with only Weinstein, where he insisted she drink vodka and diet soda and even told a waiter, "Get her what I tell you to get her. I’m the one paying the bill." After arguing with him over her refusal to consume alcohol, Nyong'o says she "found him to be pushy and idiosyncratic more than anything."
At his home, Weinstein gathered her and his children to watch the movie in a screening room, but 15 minutes later, he demanded that Nyong'o accompany him somewhere, she wrote. She agreed, because she didn't want to make a scene in front of his kids:
Harvey led me into a bedroom — his bedroom — and announced that he wanted to give me a massage. I thought he was joking at first. He was not. For the first time since I met him, I felt unsafe. I panicked a little and thought quickly to offer to give him one instead: It would allow me to be in control physically, to know exactly where his hands were at all times.
Part of our drama school curriculum at Yale included body work, using massage techniques on one another to understand the connection between body, mind and emotion, and so I felt I could rationalize giving him one and keep a semblance of professionalism in spite of the bizarre circumstance. He agreed to this and lay on the bed. I began to massage his back to buy myself time to figure out how to extricate myself from this undesirable situation. Before long he said he wanted to take off his pants. I told him not to do that and informed him that it would make me extremely uncomfortable. He got up anyway to do so and I headed for the door, saying that I was not at all comfortable with that. “If we’re not going to watch the film, I really should head back to school,” I said.
I opened the door and stood by the frame. He put his shirt on and again mentioned how stubborn I was. I agreed with an easy laugh, trying to get myself out of the situation safely. I was after all on his premises, and the members of his household, the potential witnesses, were all (strategically, it seems to me now) in a soundproof room.
Weinstein had apparently mentioned how he was thinking about a role for her on the HBO show, The No. 1 Detectives' Agency:
I didn’t quite know how to process the massage incident. I reasoned that it had been inappropriate and uncalled-for, but not overtly sexual. I was entering into a business where the intimate is often professional and so the lines are blurred. I was in an educational program where I was giving massages to my classmates and colleagues every day. Though the incident with Harvey had made me uncomfortable, I was able to explain and justify it to myself, and shelve it as an awkward moment. His offer to me to be a part of the HBO show was a very attractive one and I was excited about it, especially as I would be graduating in another year. I didn’t know how to proceed without jeopardizing my future. But I knew I would not be accepting any more visits to private spaces with Harvey Weinstein.
Nyong'o said Weinstein later invited her to a reading of his musical Finding Neverland, allowing her to bring friends as well. "He was charming and funny once more, and I felt confused about the discomfort I had previously experienced," she recalled. "I left feeling that perhaps he had learned my boundaries and was going to respect them."
She later accepted an invitation to attend a screening of W.E and have drinks with him at the Tribeca Grill:
Feeling more confident about the new sense of boundaries that we had established in our last meeting, I attended the screening on my own this time. Afterward, as planned, his male assistant arranged for me to get to the Tribeca Grill, where Harvey would be joining us. I met a female assistant when I arrived there. I was expecting that it would be a group of us, as it had been for the reading, but she informed me it would just be Mr. Weinstein. She would sit with me until he arrived. She seemed on edge, but I could only imagine how stressful it was to work for a man who had so much going on.
Harvey arrived and the assistant immediately disappeared. We ordered drinks and starters. Again he was offended by my nonalcoholic beverage choice but he didn’t fight me on it as hard. Before the starters arrived, he announced: “Let’s cut to the chase. I have a private room upstairs where we can have the rest of our meal.” I was stunned. I told him I preferred to eat in the restaurant. He told me not to be so naïve. If I wanted to be an actress, then I had to be willing to do this sort of thing. He said he had dated Famous Actress X and Y and look where that had gotten them.
I was silent for a while before I mustered up the courage to politely decline his offer. “You have no idea what you are passing up,” he said. “With all due respect, I would not be able to sleep at night if I did what you are asking, so I must pass,” I replied.
Before leaving, Nyong'o wrote that she said, "I just want to know that we are good," worried what would happen to her career after refusing him. He told her, "I don’t know about your career, but you’ll be fine." She recalled, "It felt like both a threat and a reassurance at the same time; of what, I couldn’t be sure."
The next time she saw Weinstein, it was when 12 Years had premiered at the Toronto Film Festival in 2013: "At an after-party, he found me and evicted whoever was sitting next to me to sit beside me. He said he couldn’t believe how fast I had gotten to where I was, and that he had treated me so badly in the past. He was ashamed of his actions and he promised to respect me moving forward. I said thank you and left it at that. But I made a quiet promise to myself to never ever work with Harvey Weinstein."
Nyong'o chastised people who wondered why survivors didn't speak up sooner ("That’s why we don’t speak up — for fear of suffering twice, and for fear of being labeled and characterized by our moment of powerlessness") and looked towards the future, "I hope we are in a pivotal moment where a sisterhood — and brotherhood of allies — is being formed in our industry... Now that we are speaking, let us never shut up about this kind of thing. I speak up to make certain that this is not the kind of misconduct that deserves a second chance. I speak up to contribute to the end of the conspiracy of silence."
Weinstein, who was fired from The Weinstein Company, is now being investigated by the NYPD, after an aspiring actress filed a rape complaint. The LAPD is also investigating a rape complaint, as are British authorities. A spokesperson for Weinstein has repeatedly denied that he had non-consensual sexual encounters with women.
Weinstein is currently in Arizona for sex addiction treatment; a source tells the Post, "In one group therapy session, Harvey arrived 15 minutes late. Then, when it was his turn to speak, he launched into a speech about how this is all a conspiracy against him... Harvey fell asleep in his chair [during others' personal stories]. He was only woken up by the ringing of his smuggled mobile phone [which is banned at the facility] ... Harvey jolted awake, jumped up, immediately took the call and then ran out of the room."